So when it comes to the top line drums, assembly takes place back in the home factory. This gives the company direct control over all the finishing, at least for their top line product. The eraw’ shells themselves are either made on site (European and Oriental companies) or bought in from specialist manufacturers (American companies). Those manufacturers who construct their own shells generally use the same method for all their ranges, cheap or expensive. But the top-level shells will generally be thinner. The reason for this is that thinner shells resonate better and have a deeper, richer timbre.
In order to make them thinner, though, they must use the best quality, densest hardwoods. In recent decades that has generally meant birch or maple, but there are signs the companies are exploring other timbers such as beech, oak, walnut and ereal’ mahogany: woods which, by the way, have all been used previously in the history of drum making. By the time you’re ready to move up to a top class kit you may well have opinions about the sound of particular woods which will dictate whether you plump for a maple, birch, or other kit. As with some middle bracket kits, the drum makers sell top-line eshell packs’ rather than traditional complete kits. The shell pack concept recognizes that, whereas at the lower levels it’s handy to buy a complete package, maybe even including cymbals, by the time the drummers are ready to buy a first-rate kit they have a pretty exact idea of what they want.
So there has to be flexibility in the layout and sizes, etc. A shell pack is just a convenient deal on a set of drums incorporating the toms and a bass drum, together with the mounting hardware but excluding stands and pedals. Often, minus a snare drum too. The reason for this is that when you upgrade your kit you may not want a complete hardware package. A lot of drummers have a favorite bass drum pedal that they want to hang on to. Or they may actually have set their sights on a particular pedal by another manufacturer.
As for the snare drum, there are now so many types and varieties the companies leave that for you to decide. You might even have a lovely old vintage snare that you always play and you really don’t want the standard model that comes with the toms you’ve chosen. In short, drum companies realize they are far more likely to sell you a top end kit if you’re free to choose the items you really want and not have to buy loads of bits you don’t need. So shell packs are a liberation. But they’re only the start. When it comes to the top level the word now is customization. Manufacturers have gradually been pressured to offer a much greater range of choice. Sonor started the ball rolling with its Designer Series a decade ago: the idea being that you, the drummer, would be your own kit designer.
This is now the pattern and increasingly customers are given the opportunity to plan their own kit from a multiplicity of choices. The prospective DW buyer, for example, can go on-line and devise the ideal set-up using DW’s eKit Builder’ software: a bit like those kitchen design templates down at your local furniture store. With the designer concept, choice of shell sizes is almost unlimited. You make up your own kit from however many toms, with sizes ranging in diameter from 8” to 18”, plus bass drums ranging from 18” to 24”. Not only that but all the shells are offered in a choice of two, three or even four depths. These may be given names like Standard/Regular/Traditional, Universal/Accel, Power/Deep/X-tra, Square and n for super deep bass drums n Turbo.
You can also choose the type of shell material. Buy a Yamaha Absolute kit and you can specify any drum in maple, birch, beech or oak, because they all have the same price and finishes. Pearl goes further with its Masters Custom Series, allowing you to mix individual plies of maple, birch or mahogany in each single drum. Then there’s shell construction. Some companies, including Premier and Tama, offer you the choice of esupported’ or eunsupported’ shells. Supported shells have a smaller number of plies and are extremely thin but have reinforcing rings. Unsupported shells are a little thicker but have no supporting rings.
So, for example, with Premier’s Series drums you can have a four-ply with support rings or six-ply without, constructed in birch, maple or the Gen-X mix of 50/50 maple and birch. Tama does a similar thing with its supported Starclassic shell with eSound Focus Rings’. Sonor offers the choice of two thickness of unsupported shell in its Designer series, Maple Light (6.5mm) and Maple Heavy (9.5mm). Whatever you choose, with a company’s top line kit you can be sure that special care has been taken with the bearing edges of the drums. This is a skilled and labor-intensive task, but is crucial to the sound and projection of the drums.
The same huge range of choice applies even more in the area of finish. Walk into any large drum store today and you’re overwhelmed by the dazzling display of new kits. Drums have never been this beautiful. The manufacturers are falling over themselves to come up with ever more gorgeous finishes. And this tells us a lot. Looks sell. Today you can have a tasteful 1980s-style natural lacquer, or you can have a 1970s-style psychedelic emoirE’ wrap. You can have a 1960s-style classic pearl or glitter, or you can have a new millennium environmentally friendly water nbased custom paint job. Many top companies offer several dozen off-the-peg choices and some of them unlimited custom finishes. Yet even beyond these professional lines, manufacturers occasionally come up with truly magnificent specials.
Tama’s Starclassic Exotix II Materials is a limited edition kit made from African quilted sapele veneered over eight plies of African bubinga. Tama says it will only ever make 100 of these unique kits, each accompanied by its own authentication certificate. Drums like these are very expensive and are aimed as much at wealthy collectors as they are at regular players. Some of them are so beautiful it’s hard to imagine the average drummer would risk taking them out on everyday gigs. The veneering materials and expertise are adapted from high-end furniture industry, and it’s as glorified furniture that some of these kits are destined to spend their lives.
DW has Exotic Wood finish kits in such materials Quilted Cherry, Claro Walnut, Tamo Ash and Zebrawood. The mere names make your mouth water. Anniversaries also provide good excuses for a touch of excess. Yamaha celebrated its centenary in 1977 (that’s a 100 years of pianos, not drums), with extraordinary, RC-9000-style kits in Birdseye Maple, Sapele, Curicote (a rich, extravagantly patterned chocolate brown in case you’re wondering) plus hi-tech Carbon. Pearl gave us a 50th anniversary, gold plated, vintage style, solid shell snare drum in 1996, complete with its own presentation case. And as I write, Gretsch is celebrating its 120th anniversary (1883-2003) with a limited reissue tribute to its 1950s Round Badge drums, for long the studio drummer’s favorite weapon.
When it comes to money-no-object kits, the big boys don’t have it all their own way. There is always a place for the individual craftsman to produce small numbers of custom designs. Over the past decade this has been a growth industry n albeit on a cottage scale n particularly in North America. And following the remarkable success of DW there encouraging signs for smaller emerging American companies like Orange County, Spaun, GMS, Pork Pie and Taye.
These and several others are gaining recognition and picking up occasional big name endorsees, which is essential to credibility. Over here in Britain, interest in American Orange County drums, for example, has been awakened entirely because Travis Barker of Blink 182 was spotted playing them. There is also a loyal market for Australian-made drums by Brady and Sleishman, which utilize extremely hard native timbers like Wandoo and Jarrah. And in Britain we have a number of specialist custom drum makers, including Noonan, Jalapeno and Richmo.
drum_techniuqes/emails/high-end_drum_shells.txt · Last modified: 2007/07/26 12:19